DSI Comedy Takes Root On Franklin Street

In May, the DSI Comedy Theater – a fixture of the Carrboro arts scene for nearly a decade – became a fixture of the Chapel Hill arts scene when it moved from Carr Mill Mall to a new, larger location on West Franklin Street.

The move was initially prompted by a crisis (Carr Mill Mall elected not to renew DSI’s lease), but theater owner Zach Ward chose to see it as an opportunity – and now, just a few months later, he says the company is thriving in its new spot.

In those few months, DSI completely renovated the old Mansion 462 club at 462 W. Franklin, rebuilding it on the inside from the ground up. Now, the theater occupies about four times the space it had in Carrboro, including an expanded bar and (for the first time) its own separate rehearsal facility. In the process, the theater has added to the burgeoning cultural/commercial scene on West Franklin Street – which now includes newcomers like Al’s Burger Shack and the soon-to-arrive Carolina Ale House alongside older establishments like Local 506, the Cave, Carolina Brewery, and West End Wine Bar.

Zach Ward and DSI company members Ashley Melzer and Vinny Valdivia joined Aaron Keck (who’s also a DSI company member) on the WCHL Afternoon News.

As part of the move, DSI is inviting special guests to perform from around the country. This Friday and Saturday, the theater is welcoming Junior Varsity, an improv team from New York’s renowned Magnet Theater – and next month, the theater is hosting the hip-hop-based improv team North Coast as well as a one-night-only performance by nationally-acclaimed standups Myq Kaplan (a veteran of the TV show “Last Comic Standing”) and Zach Sherwin (a writer and performer on the popular YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History”).

Visit DSI’s calendar page for show dates and times.


On July 4, Remembering Our Civil Rights Legacy

For the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, this year’s July 4 festivities come with a somber reflection on our nation’s often-troubling past.

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history and a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. It also continues the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

To mark the occasion, the Town of Chapel Hill hosted a discussion Wednesday on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act, in a packed room in the Chapel Hill Public Library. Gene Nichol and Ted Shaw served as keynote speakers; State Senator Valerie Foushee was among the panelists. (CORRECTION: Foushee was scheduled to be among the panelists, but was unable to attend.)

And on Friday – Independence Day proper – the Town of Carrboro is hosting a public reading of Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 speech “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro” (also known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”). Readers will include Valerie Foushee, former State Senator Ellie Kinnaird, and WCHL’s Aaron Keck. It begins at Town Hall at noon and should last about a half hour, as part of the town’s July 4 festivities.

James Williams is the public defender for Orange and Chatham Counties; he too will be among the readers on Friday. Earlier this week he joined Ron Stutts on the Morning News.


Family, Friends Lay UNC Student To Rest

The family and friends of the UNC student who died last week said their goodbyes Wednesday while they await the news of the cause of his death.

Harris Granger Pharr, a rising senior and a member of the Alpha Chapter of the Chi Phi fraternity, died Thursday at a residence at 500 Pittsboro Street, which is across from the UNC School of Public Health. Police said there was no sign of foul play, and an autopsy is being performed.

Pharr’s father, John, told WNCN that he believes his son died of cardiac arrest due to the high level of stress he was under with his classes. He said he was often up late working.

The funeral for Harris was held at First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh at 2:00 p.m.

According to his obituary, the Pharr family has created a scholarship in memory of Harris, which will honor academic excellence in members of the Chi Phi fraternity at UNC. They are also asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations are made in his memory to the Beaches Episcopal School in Jacksonville Beach, Florida where they are installing a new apple computer lab.


Second Suspect Arrested In May 30 Shooting

A second suspect in the fatal shooting in south-west Chapel Hill on May 30 was arrested Wednesday.

The Chapel Hill Police Department reports that Brandon Shamar Townsend, 21, of Varina Drive in Durham was apprehended in Durham by the US Marshall’s Joint Fugitive Task Force. He has been charged with First Degree Murder and Attempted First Degree Murder.

Townsend is being held without bond at the Orange County Jail.

The incident was initially reported as a break-in at 102 S. Christopher Road. It resulted in the death of Lew Hahn Hood, 33, of Chapel Hill, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Police say Hood had multiple gunshot wounds.

Bartholomew Romidas Scott, 35, of Durham was arrested and charged with first degree murder soon after the incident when he was taken to police headquarters for questioning.

Chapel Hill Police Public Information Lieutenant Josh Mecimore told WCHL that neither Hood nor Scott were residents of the home where the shooting took place.

South Christopher Road runs parallel to 15-501, Fordham Boulevard, and the home is next to the onramp from NC-54.

Click here for more on this story.


This Monday, Imagine Rosemary

Meg McGurk is spearheading the “Rosemary Imagined” project, alongside Megan Wooley.

You’re invited to weigh in on the future of Rosemary Street this Monday, June 9.

The Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership are co-hosting a pair of “community review meetings” that day at Greenbridge, to discuss the latest developments in the “Rosemary Imagined” project and solicit more public input.

Launched last year, “Rosemary Imagined” is the ongoing project to create a vision for the long-term redevelopment of Rosemary Street. Currently there are three draft designs – incorporating ideas for parks, rerouted streets, tech centers, food markets, and more – but staffers (using feedback they’ve already received) are in the process of combining those three designs into one, which will be unveiled on Monday.

Meg McGurk of the Downtown Partnership and Megan Wooley of the Town of Chapel Hill joined Aaron Keck on the Afternoon News this week to discuss the project.

The first meeting on Monday will be from 11:30-1:00; the second will be from 4:30-6:00. Both meetings will take place in Greenbridge’s Sky Lounge – and the two meetings will be identical, so there’s no need to attend both.

Visit RosemaryImagined.com to see the latest drafts and to learn more.


Friday’s Homicide Investigation Continues

Story originally posted 2:02 p.m., June 2, 2014

Questions remain in Friday’s homicide in Southeast Chapel Hill as the investigation rolls on.

Chapel Hill Police Public Information Lt. Josh Mecimore confirmed Monday afternoon that no new information was available. When the first reports came in of the shooting, a few details were reported that are still unclear. The incident was initially reported as a break-in, but Lt. Mecimore said neither the victim nor the suspect were residents of the home where it took place at 102 S. Christopher Road. He said the dispatcher might have first used that description when there was little information.

South Christopher Road runs parallel to 15-501, Fordham Boulevard, and the home is next to the onramp from NC-54.

Lew Hahn Hood, 33, of Chapel Hill was pronounced dead at the scene on Friday afternoon, after police officers responded to a report of a shooting. Police say Hood had multiple gunshot wounds.

Bartholomew Romidas Scott, 35, of Durham was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He’s being held without bond in Orange County Jail, and had his first appearance in court Monday.

The Chapel Hill News reports that Scott’s attorney, Matt Suczynski, told the court Monday that it was Scott who called 911 to summon police to the scene. While the investigation is ongoing, Orange and Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said police believe, “at this time”, Scott is responsible for killing Hood.

Woodall also said police are trying to figure out if anyone else was involved.

Alert Carolina reported Friday that there were two black male suspects. UNC Department of Public Safety spokesperson, Randy Young said that was the early report released by Chapel Hill Police, that two black males were involved. Lt. Mecimore said Chapel Hill Police were not looking for a second suspect.

A June 12 probable cause hearing is now scheduled for Scott to determine whether police have enough evidence to hold him on the murder charge.


CH Town Manager: No Tax Increase

Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil presented a recommended budget, with no tax increases, to the Town Council on Monday night.

Earlier that afternoon, he and Finance Officer Ken Pennoyer met with a group of reporters to break it all down:

“The budget, as it’s recommended tonight, has no tax increase in it.”

The recommended budget Stancil was set to present to the Town Council that evening comes to a near-total of $96 million, an increase of 3.5 percent from the last budget.

As Stancil said, the budget is balanced without a tax increase. About $2.7 million of fund balance would be used to help balance the budget.

The recommended budget assumes a one-percent growth in the property tax base, and a six-percent growth in sales taxes.

Stancil said the recommended budget for Fiscal Year 15 begins to address “some of the unsustainable strategies” that Chapel Hill had to use during the recession.

For example: One-time bond funds for resurfacing roads have dried up, so the Town staff is recommending restoring $578,000 to the operating budget.

Addressing a recent focus on affordable housing, the town will dedicate a quarter penny on the current tax rate to fund new initiatives.

The stormwater budget is down 5.9 percent. Stancil said that’s due to some large expenditures in the previous budget.

The stormwater fee is recommended to be increased by 75 cents per Equivalent Rate Unit.

“That was discussed last year when the basis upon which the stormwater fee is charged was changed,” said Stancil, “and there was an increase in the fee, and a realization and acknowledgement that we had to have steady increases to that rate in order to meet the stormwater requirements of the town.”

He compared that to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority’s policy of increasing fees steadily, rather than waiting until a large fee increase is deemed necessary.

Transit takes up the biggest slice of proposed total budget expenditures, at 21 percent.

The recommended amount of transit funds for Fiscal Year 15 is $20.5 million.

The sustainability of the transit system is a major concern for Chapel Hill. According to the summary presented to the Council, the delay in replacing old buses has created “a huge unfunded liability.”

“We have something like 42 buses that should be replaced today,” said Stancil. “So we’ve got a critical need in terms of how we continue to replace buses, with a diminishing potential for federal subsidy of buses.”

The recommended budget includes $400,000 to begin the financing process to buy buses. It’s projected that $42 million will be needed by 2023 for that purpose.

The next step in the budget process will be a work session on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The transit budget and resurfacing funding will be discussed at that meeting.

That will be followed by a public hearing about the recommended budget on May 19.

Two more work sessions are tentatively scheduled in early June, and a target date for adoption of the budget is June 9th.


Chapel Hill, Orange Present 1st Annual Preservation Symposium

Chapel Hill and Orange County are teaming up to present the First Annual “Roots of the Piedmont” Preservation Conference at the end of May, which is both National Preservation Month and National Tourism Month.

The two-day symposium will be held at the Carolina Inn of Chapel Hill on Friday, May 30th, and at the Historic Orange County Courthouse on Saturday, May 31st.

The symposium is a joint project of Preservation Chapel Hill, the Orange County Historic Preservation Commission and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.

Their goal is to preserve historic records and landmarks of Chapel Hill and Orange County.
A leading group of preservationists and historians will speak at the conference.

Those include Myrick Howard, the president of Preservation NC; and Deputy NC State Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Bartos.

Topics will include modernism, public archaeology, and 18th-century native communities.
The event begins May 30th at 8:45 a.m. at the Carolina Inn.

The opening reception takes place that night from 8 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at the Horace Williams House of Chapel Hill.

The cost of admission is $20 per day, or $30 for both days.

You can register online here.

Online registration has been extended to Tuesday, May 27.


Economic Development Causing Growing Pains For Chapel Hill

Community leaders agree that we want to grow as community in a way that promotes economic expansion and sustainability, but we are running out of space to do so.

The populations of Chapel Hill and the campus of UNC are increasing, and with growth comes inevitable change. The task at hand is to decide how to have development happen across the town in a way that serves the community, but many disagree about the best approach.

Aaron Nelson, President & CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he is fully in favor of embracing redevelopment.

“I think a lot of the future will be in redevelopment. If we are going to protect the green stuff out there, we are going to have to redevelop the stuff within our municipal boundaries or begin talking about getting into the rural buffer,” Nelson says.

Nelson has been a supporter of the proposed plan to revitalize the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham intersection, which includes vacant lots, confusing intersections, and traffic tie-ups.

That plan is causing conflict within the community, with many residents pushing back against the proposed redevelopment, arguing that the process is moving too fast. The Council delayed taking a formal vote on the plan Wednesday evening.

Julie McClintock, President of the Friends of Bolin Creek and a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, has been outspoken about her opposition to the current state of the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment.

“The fact is that what is so fascinating about everyone of these so-called focus group processes is the citizens have gotten well informed and have pointed out to the council that we need to be more comprehensive. I mean, you cannot just look at the traffic in the Ephesus-Fordham intersection. You have got to look at the entire 15-501 corridor,” McClintock says. “I would really fault the Planning Board of the Town of Chapel Hill. Why do we employ planners if they aren’t to plan comprehensively?”

McClintock also served as a member of the Central West Steering Committee, the group that was tasked with formulating a plan for the future redevelopment along Estes Dr.

Central West, like Ephesus-Fordham, is one of the several focus areas designated for redevelopment in the Chapel 2020 plan, a strategy the Town developed with a hope of formulating a vision for growth for Chapel Hill.

That is where McClintock says she believes that this approach is not living up to expectations.

“I would say that we don’t have an economic development strategy, and we need to get one. I think the Town is in crisis. Fiscally, we have unfunded transit, unfunded houses, unfunded roads. We are in trouble. We need a strategy to get out of this mire,”  McClintock says.

Michael Parker, Chair of the Town Transportation Board, co-chaired the Central West Steering Committee. For more than 10 months, members of the group argued about issues such as how much density was appropriate for the area.

Parker says he felt that the Town Council should have been more specific about what it wanted from the Central West Steering Committee, saying that they spent a lot of time “wandering in the desert.”

After dozens of long, contentious meetings, the group ultimately produced a small area plan which was approved by the Council in November of last year.

As far as the Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan, Parker says it makes sense for the town.

“Until you take a proactive stance, until the town is willing and to say, ‘These are the things that we want, and we are going to do the things that will make it possible for those things to happen,’ we will be the recipients of things that we very often do not care for and then will have to scramble and struggle to make things right,” Parker says.

On the subject of the effectiveness of these focus groups, David Schwartz, a researcher for the N.C.Botanical Garden, says that Town leaders should consider the bigger picture.

“The small area planning processes are occurring now where you have each area being addressed in isolation from the others. We end up reinventing the wheel, or each area plan not taking into account what is being considered in the other areas, and why it may make more sense to do something integrated across the entire town,” Schwartz says.

Locally-Owned Vs. National Chains

As redevelopment plans are in the works across Chapel Hill, new businesses will move in.

Nelson says the Town should aim to support locally-owned business for a healthy locally economy, but added that national chains draw in consumers which benefit surrounding stores as well. He shared that downtown Chapel Hill was about 80 percent locally owned and operated business and 20 percent national chains.

McClintock says she feared that the Town could loose its character if too many national chains moved in.

Nelson says that Orange County residents have the highest per capita income in the state, but the county is ranked 65th in per capita retail sales—so we are spending our money somewhere else. He says that in order to change this, retail brought into our area should be tailored to serve the population, not excluding big box stores.

All agreed that job creation and a strong transit system were key factors in economic prosperity.

Schwartz, McClintock, Parker, and Nelson made those comments during the “Economic Development” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. To hear the full discussion, click here.


Fiber Internet In 2014?

Your days of waiting for videos to buffer or uploading attachments may be over soon as competition is growing for which data provider is going to offer internet speeds up to 100 times faster than your current provider.

AT&T announced Thursday that it would join Google and Time Warner Cable in providing cities in the Triangle and Winston-Salem one-gigabit speeds through their fiber-optic internet services.

“AT&T already has a large fiber footprint in the region—that’s one of the reasons it made it such an attractive partner,” says Marc Hoit, the Vice Chancellor for Information Technology at N.C. State and a spokesperson for the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN). “With that, they have the ability to jump start and do things faster. We’re hoping some of those connections start before the end of this year.”

The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro along with UNC agreed in January of last year to join four other municipalities and three other major universities to ratify NCNGN. According to its website, NCNGN is a “regional initiative focused on stimulating the deployment of next generation broadband networks in North Carolina.” It’s also comprised of Durham, Cary, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem; Duke and Wake Forest round out the group.


Courtesy of Gizmodo

According to Gizmodo, a design and technology blog, the Triangle averages internet speeds between 10.9 and 14.6 megabits per second. The ultra-high-speed internet option of one-gigabit per second would be 70-100 times greater than those averages.

“If you think of how long it takes to download a movie or if you’re doing education content with the university and doing streaming, some of the things that you want to do with offsite stuff like Google Apps and Documents and Microsoft SkyDrive and download music and your save your music up in the cloud, if you have a one gig file and you’re up at a gig, it takes a second,” Hoit says.

Hoit says NCNGN sees ultra-high-speed internet changing the world of medicine.

“We’re hoping to see things like medical diagnostics live, hi-resolution video used for medical services or for other types of services that you can do diagnostics and use that high-speed stream,” Hoit says.

Another positive aspect of fiber-optic internet is downloading and uploading speeds are the same. With Google fiber or AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, you could receive or send files big and small in almost no time. For example, you could download a full-length, high-definition movie in about 30 seconds.

“The symmetric version is really important from our standpoint, because as you want to work with all these new services that people are doing and putting your music in the cloud; if somebody’s in a studio and creating music and then wants to put it up and to be served somewhere else, you need that upload speed just as much,” Hoit says.

Google offered its first fiber-optic internet service in Kansas City, Missouri in 2012. It later expanded to Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas. In mid-February, the internet giant announced it was considering Triangle cities as places to expand the ultra-high-speed option.

Time Warner Cable said last year that it plans to extend the next level of service sometime in the near future.

Of course, the prices for these ultra-high speed options could be higher. Google fiber in Kansas City is selling its product at $70 per month for internet alone. It is, however, currently waiving its $300 construction fee to customers who sign up.

“Our expectation is to be priced similar to what you’re seeing in Kansas City and in Austin,” Hoit says. “The price depends on the costs and other things, but it should be very close to that same price.”

The next step for the municipalities and universities within NCNGN is to review the terms and agreements of the plan to continue the process.

Carrboro elected officials will likely vote in mid-May on the plan; Chapel Hill leaders have not decided on a date when they will vote on the plan. However, Hoit says the next step should be fairly seamless.

“It’s been a two, two-and-a-half year process of which the municipalities and the universities have been working together through this whole time,” Hoit says. “It will hopefully not come as a surprise. The municipal lawyers have all been involved, so there’s been a lot of collaboration that we’re hoping everything goes smoothly.”